Weekend Escape: Modena

Whether you’re stopping in Modena for a quick gastronomic break or planning on spending a couple of days in the melting pot of gastronomy, opera and sports cars, I hope this guide can be of use to you! 

Day 1

We arrived in Modena with a few hours of sunlight to spare, so after quickly dropping our bags off at the Airbnb I had rented for our stay, we decided to go for an explorative walk around town. Although we visited Modena at the beginning of February it wasn’t too cold to walk around, even in the evening, allowing us to meander through all the small vicoli and streets of the historic center.

I had called – in vain – about 10 different restaurants to book a table for dinner, but being Monday they were all closed. The only open one was Da Danilo, a historic trattoria serving delicious, traditional dishes. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we ended up going back to the trattoria more than once because of how much we enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Authentic, old school restaurants with a fridge containing the desserts right in the center of the room and an angolo del bollito are hard to come across these days, so we were even happier to have stumbled across Da Danilo.

We ordered a dish of coppa which came with a basket of fragrant and warm gnocco fritto, followed by lasagne alla Bolognese, tortelli di zucca and a side of spicy cicoria—to balance out the pasta, salumi and fried food. We happily waddled back to our Airbnb, discussing the deliciousness of the lasagne and called it a night. 

Day 2

Our day began with a 7AM wake up call. I’d made an appointment with a local caseificio to visit their Parmigiano Reggiano production, which takes place everyday at 8.30AM. The newest addition to the family-run caseificio gave us a wonderful tour through the entire production process, aging cellar and gigantic barn, home to a portion of their dairy cows. Gaining insight into the intricate world of Parmigiano Reggiano production was a thrilling experience, and the tasting which followed our visit led me to appreciate the unique characteristics each different phase of aging Parmigiano is consumed at even more. 

Back in town we headed for Modena’s historic market, Mercato Storico Albinelli, which is filled with stalls selling fresh produce, local cured meat delicacies, fresh pasta, bread, cheese and so on. We somehow managed to retain ourselves from buying the entire market and promised we would be back the following day to buy some tasty souvenirs. 

I hastily made my way back to the car as a very special lunch appointment awaited me. Driving into Maranello, home to the Ferrari factory, museum and much more felt like stepping into an alternate reality: almost everyone was dressed in the company’s signature, red mechanic outfits and everywhere you looked Ferrari’s logo was looking back at you. Lunch at Il Cavallino – Massimo Bottura’s newest venture in partnership with Ferrari – was spectacular, starting from the exquisitely designed interiors to every last detail on each dish. The eight-course meal was full of surprises, flavour combinations that were new to my palate and also some familiar ones, creating a perfect balance between intrigue, innovation and comfort. I won’t spoil the whole menu for you, but two dishes you absolutely must try are the Parmigiano Reggiano Crème Caramel made with roasted onions and 36 month old Parmigiano and the Risotto alla Zucca with salted tangerines. 

The rest of the day was spent wandering all of Modena’s streets and simply getting lost – my favorite way of getting to know a city – an activity I highly recommend. Be sure to walk past (and then walk in to explore) Salumeria Hosteria Giusti, one of Modena’s oldest botteghe which is a gold mine for cured meats, cheese and wine. 

Following a quick nap we were back on our feet and heading for dinner at Da Danilo, where I had some lovely and light scaloppine with balsamic vinegar and a side of creamy puré, my ultimate comfort food. 

Day 3

Another morning, another producer visit. This time we focused on another specialty from Modena: Aceto Balsamico, also known as Italy’s black gold. Just outside of Modena is a beautiful, century old villa belonging to Akane’s family, which alongside being their house is home to their impressive production and collection of Aceto Balsamico di Modena. Some of their barrels contain vinegar that is over 100 years old! We spent a couple of lovely hours with Akane who tried to break down the extremely intricate process of balsamic vinegar production, brining us to understand that it is more labor intensive than wine, prosciutto and cheese production combined.

With our newly purchased precious cargo of Aceto Balsamico tucked safely away we headed back to town for some last minute shopping. From the Mercato Storico Albinelli we bought 2kg of handmade tortellini and some delicious funny-looking bread from Ferrara. Some sort of destiny then brought us to stumble across Salumeria Brandoli, another historic bottega which had a spectacular selection of local pork-based cured meats. We somehow managed to buy just two products: a fondo di prosciutto (the end of a prosciutto one buys whole to cut at home) and a portion of delicately smoked pancetta—the best I’ve ever tasted. 

There was no better way of ending our short, food-oriented stay than with lunch at Franceschetta58, a well-lit, modern bistrot just outside the center, always part of the Francescana Group. I thought I had reached my limit on food intake yet I was able to enjoy a shared tasting menu and a few extra plates, each better than the previous.

It was the highlight of our trip and I can’t recommend dedicating one meal of your stay in Modena to Franceschetta58 enough! I loved every single dish and would love to spoil everything for you, but being surprised is a vital element of a dining experience so I’ll let you discover the wonderful food by yourself. 

That being said I’ll share with you my personal highlights that I would order over and over again. As a starter: the Emilia Burger, a patty made with cotechino, beef filet and 36 month old Parmigiano Reggiano topped with salsa verde and a balsamic vinegar mayo—to be eaten in four bites. As a main course: Tortellini del Tortellante, a dish you can find also at Il Cavallino which – although not exactly light – will make you wish you could eat an entire bucket full. I dedicated an entire Instagram post to the dish but in short it is sublime: tiny, handmade tortellini served with a thick, creamy Parmigiano cream. As dessert: Torta Sabbiosa, a light and soft sponge cake on the inside with a satisfyingly-crunchy outer layer, served with mascarpone ice cream and warm marasca cherries. 

Where to eat & shop 

Da Danilo – traditional Modenese dinner in a welcoming and rustic setting.

Caseificio Bio Reggiani– organic Parmigiano Reggiano producers 15 minutes from Modena, visits and tastings available.

Il Cavallino – fine dining signed by Massimo Bottura’s at the Ferrari headquarters.  

Franceschetta58 – fine dining in a bistrot setting signed by Massimo Bottura. 

Aceto Balsamico di Modena – family-run historic “acetaia” a 10 minute drive from Modena.

Salumeria Brandoli – historic salumeria in the heart of Modena.

Salumeria Hosteria Giusti – historic salumeria and “hosteria” with 4 tables and a fixed menu.

Mercato Storico Albinelli – historic market in Modena’s centre where you can find fresh produce, fresh pasta, bread, cheese, cured meats, butchers and some street food.